A Man Called Otto fails to make any lasting impression with its lacklustre plot and one-dimensional characters, despite the success of the Swedish original.
Adapted from Fredrik Backman’s novel “A Man Called Ove” and the original film of the same name, A Man Called Otto follows a grumpy Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks) who has become disillusioned with the world. Following the death of his beloved wife Sonya, Otto finds routine in his morning rounds. He must maintain the strict standards for his neighbourhood, despite his neighbours having a reckless disregard for the rules. All hope appears to be lost for Otto, who feels it would be better if he joined Sonya, until a high-spirited young family move in across the street and bring hope with them.
Marketed as a comedy-drama, A Man Called Otto tries to toe the line between humorous and sentimental. Unfortunately, director Marc Forster fails to deliver either of these elements with much vigour. Sure, Otto does pull on the heartstrings at times. We can all pander to a fairy-tale romance with an all-encompassing love, depicted more vividly through present-day Otto’s rumination about Sonya than the scattering of flashbacks where she is actually present. Although Rachel Keller’s performance as Sonya is inoffensive, it’s the casting of Truman Hanks as Young Otto which is the real misfire.
Casting Hanks’ son as his on-screen younger self sounds like a continuity dream for any director. However, Truman doesn’t seem to possess the same raw talent as his father. In the flashback scenes, included to contextualise present-day Anderson’s grumpiness by showing all that he’s lost, Truman does nothing to aid the viewer in having empathy or building a connection to Otto. He appears rigid and unemotional, uncomfortable on screen and in Sonya’s presence. This, therefore, compromises the relationship that is meant to sit at the crux of A Man Called Otto’s emotional pull.
The comedic elements of the film may have been delivered with more success, but it’s also what sequesters A Man Called Otto as being for older audiences. The gags often come at the expense of the Gen Z generation, whilst making it feel like Forster has never interacted with someone under the age of twenty-five. The film’s opening scene is a good enough example of this as any, with Otto shouting at a young employee in the hardware store for trying to assist him. Although we are meant to dislike Otto in the beginning, this scene may hit a little too close to home for younger audience members who are all too familiar with the old, white man’s wrath. Perhaps the only exception to this is the trans teen subplot, which although not explored in any great depth, gives validation to a teen experience. It should be said that it’s not a bad thing that A Man Called Otto has a target audience that it’s catering to, but it’s something for lovers of the novel, that’s adored by all ages, to be aware of.
However, A Man Called Otto is not all bad. Mariana Treviño, who plays the new neighbour Marisol, is undoubtedly the guiding force in this film. With the determination and directness of any woman who has two kids (with a third incoming), Marisol can pull Otto back from the edge. She adds vibrancy and purpose to Otto’s monochromatic life and helps him see that it is worth living once more. Tom Hanks gives an expectedly convincing performance as grumpy Otto and delivers a redemption arc that’s easy to get behind. They are joined on screen by a supporting cast that is a little lacklustre but is ultimately an integral part of creating a poignant end.
As the Academy Award-nominated A Man Called Ove still stands as the third biggest film at the Swedish box office, we can’t really say that this Hollywood remake was justified. Especially in a post-Parasite world, it’s a mystery why Hollywood feels the need to release their own takes on a foreign film. Nonetheless, A Man Called Otto is ultimately harmless and a feel-good watch for lovers of weekend movie nights.
A Man Called Otto is out now in UK cinemas, and will be released nationwide in the US and worldwide on January 13, 2023.